CATALYST caught up with the founder of Waves For Water, our NGO of the Week, just as he was departing for a trip to Haiti.
What inspired you to create Waves for Water?
I was aboard a boat off the coast of Sumatra during a surf trip in September 2009 when I felt a slight shake. I had no way of knowing at the time, but a 7.6 earthquake had destroyed the nearby city of Padang—with more than 1,000 lives lost and 100,000 homeless—until I came to shore and saw the devastated city. I happened to be en route to Bali to deliver 10 water filters for what would have been the first Waves For Water mission. But with tragedy striking Sumatra, I went into Padang to get water filters into the hands of rescue workers to help those who were most in need of clean water. That was really the start of Waves For Water.
Can you tell us about your water filters for travelers program? How many water filters are you delivering in this way?
We’re distributing filters almost every day. Waves For Water has programs in over 13 countries —Haiti, Indonesia, Liberia, Pakistan, Kenya, Brazil, Nicaragua, Afghanistan and Chile, to name a few. Each of these countries are being used as models of success that can be applied to other countries in need. Through our Clean Water Courier program, travelers can purchase W4W filters and deliver them to destinations all over the world. They can travel with a purpose and do something truly remarkable. In fact, a few surfers are off to Panama on a trip next week to surf and deliver some filters in an area that needs clean water.
Can a traveler, like anyone reading this, just connect with Waves For Water, and sign up to distribute filters on their trips?
They can! Waves For Water has developed a DIY program called Clean Water Couriers (more information can be found on our website) in which travelers can connect with local networks and community leaders in countries that need clean water, and can carry the filters with them in their luggage. Creating the filtration systems is simple—all people need once in-country are paint or 5-gallon buckets, a knife to make a hole, spigots and the water filters that can be purchased for $25 each or a community filter (generally the better option to serve more people) at $50.
I know your goal is to provide clean water to everyone who needs it, can you tell us about your vision for how this will be realized, and when?
Yes, our goal is get clean water to every single person who needs it. Waves For Water works on the front-lines to provide clean water to communities in need around the world. In addition to our primary focuses around clean water, the organization has coordinated disaster relief efforts following earthquakes in Indonesia and Haiti, post-tsunami Japan, Pakistan, Brazil, and now Hurricane Sandy here in the US. We work with world leaders and strategic partners who take a “no-nonsense” attitude toward making global change.
It’s hard to say when we’ll be able to achieve this, but our organizational structure and work is built upon trying to get as many people as possible involved in this mission. The idea isn’t to get one person to drop off 100 clean water filters and call it a day. Let’s instead try to get 100,000 travelers to each pack 10 small filters, or team up with groups to implement projects with larger filters for an entire village. Then, the world will start to take notice and we’ll be that much closer to realizing the ultimate vision.
Since you mainly work internationally, what was the Hurricane Sandy Relief mission like for you?
Within a couple days of the storm, I knew we needed to be in the coastal communities in New York and New Jersey to provide support. Sandy struck such a personal chord with me because, as a surfer, I knew that most of the communities hit by Sandy were surf/beach lifestyle based; many of them I had spent time in personally over the years. In addition, I actually had personal friends that lost a business or home (or both). I would also never pretend that I am a local there, but, through guidance from the key people I already knew in those areas, I was able to quickly pinpoint what needed to be done and how to do it with integrity and heritage preserved. My Waves For Water team leaders on the ground are all locals and those who were leaders in these communities long before the storm hit. Now they are using their already established connections in these communities to be our eyes and ears on the ground in determining where the greatest needs for aid continue to be.
In my line of work I am used to seeing areas wiped out with a seemingly endless road to recovery. The region devastated by Sandy is no different. The sheer scope of destruction is mind boggling—roughly 220 miles long. Because of this wide range and all of the various challenges that go with that, it is definitely worse than Katrina in my opinion. But the simple fact that this catastrophe happened so close to NYC also means that there are more resources and great minds focused on it that wouldn't be otherwise. I think this alone will help to speed up the recovery time. That said, we are looking at probably 5 years minimum to have everything in these areas feeling totally normal again. That's not to say that some communities will bounce back quicker, but as a whole I think we will feel the after effects of this for 5-10 years...
I have unfortunately seen other areas hit like NY/NJ were... We worked most of the major disasters of the last four years — Haiti earthquake, Pakistan floods, Japan Tsunami, Chile Tsunami, and Indonesia Tsunami. But Sandy is right up there with all of them in terms of damage and scale. Japan and Haiti are probably the worst destruction I've seen though...
I typically do a 4-5 day weekly rotation in the field—2 days in New Jersey, 2 days in Rockaway, 1 day in Long Beach, and the other 2-3 days a week in the city coordinating etc... That is pretty much my weekly schedule right now.
Connect with Waves For Water to join their Clean Water Courriers program, find out more, donate or volunteer.